Six years ago this week I pressed the 'publish' button on Random Things for the very first time. I didn't really have a clue what I was doing, or what would happen, or if anyone would read my ramblings.
Six years ago. Six years in blogger land is a very long time, and I feel as though I've come a very long way.
Back then, I didn't really know any other bloggers. I'd followed Simon Savidge of Savidge Reads for a few years, and Jackie from Farm Lane Books and enjoyed reading their bookish thoughts. A couple of my friends from an online book club took the plunge and started blogging, so I thought I'd give it a try.
I wasn't an active Twitter user and I wasn't sure how to get my reviews out there, but people did start to view the blog, and publishers began to contact me, and the books began to arrive, and they haven't stopped.
I love my blog. I love books, and reading and I love shouting about books. I love it when someone says that they've bought a book because they read my review. I love it when an author says that my review has made them happy. I love the way that whatever else is happening in the world, I can retreat into a land of make-believe and be soothed and healed.
Over the past couple of years the blogging world has expanded so much. Our community has grown, and new bloggers have appeared. People like me, who love books and want to tell other people about the books. I asked a question in Book Connectors on Facebook the other day, I wanted to know how long my fellow members had been blogging. It's fascinating to see just how many blogs have been started up in the past couple of years, and I was surprised that some of my favourite bloggers had only been around for a short time. People like Noelle at CrimeBookJunkie, and Jo Robertson at My Chestnut Reading Tree who are so well respected, and write fabulous reviews, it feels like they've been around for years. They are so so good.
Bloggers support each other. A couple of years ago it seemed really difficult to know where we could post our reviews, or connect with authors. Some Facebook groups had so many rules, it was frowned upon if we posted link to our blogs too often, and authors weren't allowed to promote their work. So I created Book Connectors on Facebook. A private group for bloggers and authors; to connect, to share blog posts and book news; to arrange promotional posts; to chat about books and book-related issues. It's a fabulous place to be with over 1500 members; all blogger and/or authors. We don't have rules, we just exist, we are nice to each other and we support each other.
Sometimes though, it's not all quite so happy. Last month there was a spate of posts in another Facebook group which became known as 'Blogger Bashing'. A couple of non-blogger readers decided that they didn't want to see 'serial bloggers' in their groups and implied that us bloggers were doing it for financial gain.
After much spluttering and laughter .... please do take a look at my bank account after a visit to Waterstone's, some of us tried to explain that no, we don't get paid, we do it because we love it. Yes, we do get a review copy of the book, but I can assure you that most bloggers will go on to buy a finished copy of the books that they review. Proof copies are great, but it's so good to have the finished article on the shelf. Whilst lots of non-blogger readers were happy to learn about blogger, there were a few that refused to believe us. Now, I believe that everyone is entitled to their personal view, but when that person states untruths, then they can be challenged. It wasn't just bloggers who tried to explain either, some really supportive authors did their best to explain how blogging worked too. But no, we were then accused of bullying ....
I took a little Facebook break. Personally, I feel that the word 'bully' can be used as a weapon. Once it's been uttered, or typed it can shut down a whole discussion. Nobody wants to be called a bully, mud sticks, and I actually think that labelling people as bullies can be seen as bullying in itself.
Oh, and then there is Twitter. Oh, Twitter, how I love you. I am almost addicted to Twitter. I only really follow book people, so I don't see the fights and explosions that I hear about. Piers Morgan and Katie Hopkins don't feature on my Twitter feed and I wouldn't know a TOWIE star if I fell over one.
New bloggers often ask for blogging tips and I always say 'Twitter is the best'! Publishers and authors promote their books on Twitter all the time. They tweet tantalising pictures of new releases, and book trailers, and cover reveals. Often, publishers will shout out for bloggers and reviewers via Twitter. They have proofs, they want reviews, 'RT if you'd like a copy', they say, and we do, and we get a copy, and we review it, and we tweet the review ... it's the circle of Twitter.
Lots of bloggers and reviewers will tweet a photo of the books that arrive in the post. Commonly known as #bookpost. #Bookpost is not a brag, it's a way of saying thanks to the publisher and the author, but it's also another way of getting the book noticed. Other readers will see the photo, it creates interest, and pre-orders, and conversations. It's great marketing. It's all about the book.
So, now I come to Twitter etiquette. Yes, there is an unofficial code of conduct on Twitter. It's much the same as day to day life, it's about being polite and respectful.
Imagine the scene; you are in the office, or at a party, or out to lunch with a group of friends. One of your friends works for a firm that makes chocolate and gave you a sample of a new product. You say to the other friends 'look what X gave me, doesn't it look scrumptious?' I hope that your friends would reply to you. I hope that your friends would not ignore you, and then turn to your other friend and say 'Want', or 'I'd like some, do you have more?', or 'Oh, it's not fair, I really want to try that.' Can you imagine??
It happens. It happens on Twitter, all the time. There are lots of books and lots of proofs, and there are lots of bloggers and reviewers. Some publicists are quite happy to send out proofs to anyone that asks for one, some don't. I don't really know how they choose; maybe it's based on the blogger's reviewing skills, or how many followers they have. Maybe they stick to the bloggers who they know will actually review the book, and shout about it. Maybe they want to send a few proofs out very early, with more nearer to publication date. Maybe the they will scan someone's feed to see if they interact with other bloggers and authors, and tweet about books. Every publicist has their own way of doing things.
So, here's the thing. I will continue to advise new bloggers to look to Twitter for books, but I do urge them to think about how they ask. Imagine you see a Tweet something like this:
@annecater Wow! Great #bookpost today. A copy of #NewBook by @GreatAuthor - thanks very much @GreatPublisher.
Underneath the Tweet there's an arrow. This is the 'respond to' button. When you press that you are responding to all of the people tagged in the Tweet, including the person who posted it. So, if you press the arrow and respond like this:
@annecater @GreatAuthor @GreatPublisher Oh I want.
or like this:
@annecater @GreatAuthor @GreatPublisher Hello, could I have a copy of this for my blog please?
You have just ignored someone whilst responding to someone, and it's annoying, very very annoying. By all means, go ask for a copy of the book from the publisher, but please don't tag me into your request. I will respond. Maybe I shouldn't, but it's rude and it drives me crazy. When I respond, try to understand why I've responded. It's not because I don't want anyone else to have the book, that's crazy. If that were true, I wouldn't Tweet a photo of it. It's because you've responded to me, but ignored me.
Oh, and when you've got some books, please do think twice before going to Twitter to complain that the publisher who sent you the books has now contacted you to ask if you are going to review it. That is THEIR JOB!! They are not some sort of 'Book Santa' who sprinkles books around like fairy dust, they are doing their job. They have invested time and money in the book and the author and produced proof copies, otherwise known as review copies. That's the point. Review copies.
Of course, most of us will devour the books, and we will review them. There are things to consider when posting the review too. Lots of publishers will send out very early copies of books, it's all about the marketing, it's about getting people noticing and talking about a book, way before it's published. Some publishers do welcome very early blog reviews, but I know that many of them would prefer that the actual review was posted much nearer to publication date. If you do receive a really early copy, it's worth checking with the publicist, and asking them when they'd ideally like to see blog reviews.
Sadly, I know that some of those bloggers are people who are lovely to my face, but hey ho, this is how I feel. I also know that some publishers hate this as much as I do, and they note it, and they remember it.
So, six years on, and although I've talked about the things that I dislike about blogging land, there is far far more that I love.
I love the fact that I've met some amazing people: bloggers, reviewers, authors and publishers. I've been to some fabulous events, in places that I'd never ever have been to otherwise.
My reviews have been quoted on real books; books that are sold in bookshops and supermarkets - my words, that I wrote, there is nothing quite like that feeling.
I'm part of a community who all love the same thing; the written word. I love that.
I've read books that I wouldn't have dreamt of picking up, and I've loved them.
Six years is a long time in blogging land but I fully intend to carry on for as long as people want me to read their books, and shout about their books. I will continue to support and encourage new bloggers, and defend bloggers, and I will continue to respond when someone is rude to me.
Last week I read Quieter Than Killing by Sarah Hilary, I folded down so many pages to remind me of some wonderfully written sentences; this one could have been written about me:
"Just remember I'm a Northerner. That means blunt speaking, no bollocks, but I can hand out hugs when I need to. Most days I'm having trouble holding them in."
Sarah Hilary ~ Quieter Than Killing